WASHINGTON - Nearly half of U.S. diplomats who do not want to serve in Iraq say a key reason is because they do not support the Bush administration's policies there, according to a union survey released on Tuesday.
The survey by the American Foreign Service Association, which represents the rank-and-file diplomatic corps, not political appointees, also found that most U.S. diplomats were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of resources. Four out of 10 think Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is doing a bad job supporting them.
The survey canvassed the opinions of 4,311 foreign service members out of a total of about 11,500. It was unclear how representative the survey was but it indicated what many diplomats say is growing discontent among the rank and file.
The Iraq war has strained the U.S. diplomatic corps and become unpopular among Americans in general. In the survey, 48 percent of the diplomats surveyed who said they would not volunteer to go to Iraq cited opposition to U.S. policy on Iraq.
Other reasons were security concerns, time away from family and "obstacles to performing assigned duties."
The survey did not simply ask diplomats whether they were willing, or unwilling, to serve in Iraq. Rather, it asked those who were not willing to go to Iraq why not, and those who were willing to go why.
Of those willing to go, the biggest draw was higher pay and benefits as well as a sense of patriotism and career enhancement.
The electronic survey conducted at the end of last year found 68 percent of respondents opposed a decision by Rice last year to consider forcing employees to go to Iraq, where the embassy has been plagued by staff shortages.
Asked about those who would not go to Iraq because they had policy disagreements, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said people who signed up as foreign service officers were expected to support the policies of the U.S. government.
"And if people have a problem with that, they know what they can do," said McCormack, indicating disgruntled employees could quit if they were unhappy.
Rice's management style has come under tighter scrutiny in recent months, and she has been criticized for not completing a mammoth U.S. embassy in Baghdad on schedule and for saying she might force diplomats to serve in danger spots like Iraq.
With about 250 diplomats based in Iraq, there have been also been shortfalls elsewhere and last month the department said assignments worldwide would be cut by 10 percent because of staff shortages.
Asked how they would rate Rice's ability to defend the foreign service and get the resources needed, 44 percent of respondents said she was doing a poor or "very poor" job.
McCormack questioned the poll's methodology and defended Rice, saying she had fought "tooth and nail" to get resources for diplomats, pointing to steady budget increases.
"Working with this president, she has put the State Department back again at the center of U.S. foreign policy," said McCormack.
Rice has a closer working relationship with U.S. President George W. Bush than her predecessor Colin Powell, but McCormack said he was not trying to compare her to others.
Reporting by Sue Pleming; editing by Cynthia Osterman
© 2008 Reuters